I'm delighted that you are here because the FCC has an exciting and very busy agenda for the coming year and I wanted to take this opportunity to outline what we will be working on this year and to look back and review how far we have come.
In the past year, every major economic indicator in every sector of the communications industry was up . . . way up: job growth, revenue, investment, stock values. Perhaps the most dramatic recent indication of this is the excitement during the holidays about electronic commerce. This holiday season, many Americans woke up to the power of the Information Age to change their lives: they used the Internet to do their Christmas shopping. Almost 9 million families shopped on-line for gifts, almost double the amount from the year before. They were joined on-line by the 22 million households who use the Internet for news, for schoolwork, or to just keep up with family and friends. Its one reason why we've seen the remarkable rally in Internet-related stocks.
And the excitement is not just on the Internet. Last year, 61 million Americans had a cellular phone, and because of competition, these phones were of a higher quality and bills were more than 50 percent lower than a decade ago. American families also watched as long-distance companies competed for their business, offering special incentives and cut rates. It was a year in which we saw the price of long distance minutes plummet, as consumers were bombarded with advertising: ten cents a minute, then nine cents a minute; then five cents a minute. Because of competition, long distance rates are the lowest in history.
In every sector, there are now more telecommunications competitors, more new services available to consumers, and more of both on the way. All of these good things didn't just happen. We know this. Because as we look around the world, most other countries don't even come close. Our communications system is the envy of the world. Its miraculous by comparison to many other countries.
No, this didn't just happen. It happened because we have the right statutory and regulatory model in this country. It is a model that works for the Information Age. And it is the model that is the envy of the rest of the world, and, that is being emulated in much of the rest of the world.
But, of course, we have much more work to do in this country. The transition from monopoly regulation to open markets, from today's technologies to tomorrow's breakthroughs, is not yet complete.
Looking forward to 1999, the challenge before this Commission is clear: to promote competition, to foster new technologies, to protect consumers, and to ensure that all Americans have access to the wonders of the communications revolution. These goals are the will of the American people and of Congress, set forth in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. And we at the FCC will continue to work hard to bring these benefits to every American.
These goals will guide us as we review the major mergers now before this Commission. They will be in our minds as we continue our work in opening local phone markets to competition, so Americans have choice in local phone service. They will guide us as we work to make our communications network accessible to all Americans, especially the 54 million Americans with disabilities.
During this time of transition, the ground rules we set now will structure competition and the telecommunications industry for years to come. Decisions we make today will determine whether or not all Americans -- irrespective of where they live, their race, their age, or their special needs -- can share in the promise of the Information Age.
Our agenda for this year is a full one. And it is an important one. Information technologies are transforming our economy. A New Economy has emerged. It is an economy centered on skilled workers, broad access to technology, and entrepreneurial markets. The communications industries are the centerpiece of this New Economy and thus an indispensable part of our prosperity.
And as we move into the Information Age, we at the FCC will have to change. The top-down, command and control, regulatory model of the Industrial Age is as out of place in the New Economy as the rotary telephone. As competition and convergence develop, the FCC will continue to streamline its operations, eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens, and make it easier for the public to interact with the agency.
The attached agenda for 1999 includes the major initiatives that we will be working on this year -- all focused on our core goals to promote competition, to foster new technologies, to protect consumers, and to ensure that all Americans become full participants in the richness of the Information Age.
Well, those are some of the highlights of our agenda for 1999. 1998 was my first year as Chairman. It was a busy year and an exciting year. The pace of change will be even faster this year. So I am sure that next year, when we look back on the past twelve months, we will, once again, marvel at how far we have come.
We will promote competition throughout the communications marketplace.
Deregulate As Competition Develops
We will adapt the Commission, its rules, and procedures to the competitive future.
We will protect customers from unscrupulous competitors, and give customers the information they need to make wise choices in a robust and competitive marketplace.
Ensure Broad Access to Communications Services and Technology
We will ensure that all Americans -- no matter where they live, what they look like, what their age, or what special needs they have -- have access to new technologies to take advantage of the enormous opportunity created by the communications revolution.
We will work to ensure that America remains the world's leader in innovation.
Advance Competitive Goals Worldwide
We will serve as an example and advocate of telecommunications competition worldwide.